We seem to be observing the death of affirmative Zionism in the major UK Jewish organizations and, with it, their inability to effectively address the growing antithesis against Israel and Jews in Britain.
In Britain, anti-Semitic incidents surged by more than one-third in 2021 and show signs of getting worse in 2022. The cultural identity of most anti-Jewish hate perpetrators is known but officially suppressed out of fear of being called an Islamophobe or racist.
This has shown itself in recent words and actions by members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
The fear is very real given the recent reaction to the BBC that accused Jewish schoolkids on a bus of being Islamophobic as they screamed for help when being attacked and threatened by a non-white mob on Oxford Street.
Recently, anti-Israel anti-Semites were given fresh ammunition by leading members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews who publicly blurted insults against a visiting Israeli Knesset member. This follows similar accusations against other prominent Jews including the treasurer and the chairman of JNF UK.
This hysteria must stop. But maybe there is something else here. Could the assault against leaders of the JNF as well as affirmative Zionists in the BOD be part of a power play by well organized, Israel critics?
Samuel Hayek and Gary Mond were not accused of incompetence or criminality. Both, separately, voiced concerns for the future of British Jews living under the looming shadow of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism.
Mond resigned in disgust as senior Vice President of the BOD accusing that body, according to the JC, of engaging in cancel culture.
I sense that the attacks against Mond and Hayek smack of a campaign by the anti-Zionists to capture the JNF scalp as they have with both the BOD and the ZF.
What has happened to affirmative Zionism and Jewishness at the top of British Jewry? Mond spells it out in the JC article; ““I believe that the Board faces a crisis of legitimacy. The leadership of the Board leans to the political left with the silent majority not being heard.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews admit they are not a Zionist organization. At least, this is what I was told by several representatives several years ago when I campaigned for the BOD not to accept the application of a Jewish group whose only reason to exist was their anti-Israel animus.
When I protested the nomination of Yachad, the British equivalent of JStreet, I was, often rudely, told to butt out of British Jewish affairs as I had chosen to live in Israel. This, as they were readying to welcome a group whose only agenda was turning British Jews against Israel.
Since then, the number of anti-Israel Jews within the BOD has increased to include groups who gathered to say kaddish for Hamas terrorists while criticizing Israel.
Yachad promotes visits to Israel for impressionable Jewish youth groups. A large part of their itinerary includes field trips into Judah & Samaria which they coordinate not with Israeli experts such as Regavim but with Palestinian NGOs, some of which have been exposed as fronts for the PFLP terror organization.
Yachad is actively critical of, and campaigning to change, the internationally recognized IHRA definition of Anti-Semitism because it causes a “chilling effect” on the fraudulent language of their friends in “Palestine Solidarity Societies.”
In short, the BOD has become a repository for groups to trash the Jewish State.
Where did this begin?
It goes back to the time when the Board of Deputies of British Jews was taken over by the all-powerful mogul, Mick Davis, who skillfully created the Jewish Leadership Council to undemocratically overlord elected representatives of Jewish community bodies.
Davis flaunted his personal jaundiced views against Israel. Remeber this was from a body that insisted I keep my nose out of Jewish affairs in Britain.
Davis travelled to Jerusalem to lay down his opinion at a Knesset meeting that I attended by telling the meeting chair, MK Einat Wilf, that Israel should be more sensitive to the feelings of British Jews when it does things that makes life uncomfortable for Jews in Britain. This was during a period of intense Palestinian Arab terrorism in which forty Israelis were killed and dozens more injured.
I was impressed by Wilf’s response. This leftwing MK put Davis sharply in his place by telling him that she was sorry that he was inconvenienced by Israel’s need to protect its citizens from Palestinian terror.
The chutzpah and the arrogance of Davis to come to our Knesset to demand our government change its policies to suit his personal ideology was appalling.
At this Jerusalem meeting, I witnessed the disconnect between the attitude of a British Jewish leadership increasingly adopting the arguments of Israel’s antagonists rather than standing solidly with the people of Israel struggling against an enemy determined to kill and replace us. Ultimately, the BOD boss was telling Israel to tiptoe more gently in responding to all forms of aggression against us because the kickback from pro-Palestine Israel-haters in the UK made Davis feel uncomfortable in London.
Davis appointed Joe Millis, a far left BDS activist, as the UJIA spokesman. A man who infamously said, “Israel isn’t Judaism, and it is becoming a footnote in history.”
That was back in 2012. I would ask, who became a “footnote in history?” Israel, or Millis?
Under Davis’s and Vivien Wineman’s JLC leadership, the BOD pressed Jewish students to cancel lectures by American lawyer and founder of The Lawfare Project, Brooke Goldstein, and pro-Israel Muslim and friend, Kassim Hafeez, who was hounded out of Britain for refuge in Canada by virulent Israel-haters, on the spurious ground that such speakers would “disrupt” interfaith relations and create tensions.
Concern about not rocking the interfaith boat is understandably a major concern for BOD representatives. However, there can be negative connotations in overdoing it. This was evident in their kneejerk accusations of “racism” against prominent British Jews who do not possess an ounce of racism but have serious concerns and have been vocal about the increase in violent extremism against Jews in Britain.
Standing affirmatively with Israel should have equal weight with interfaith activities because, without it, Israel gets left behind when tens of thousands take to the streets of London waving Palestinian flags screaming “From the River to the Sea Palestine will be Free!”
I witnessed one of these events several years ago. I was standing on The Strand as this endless stream of Israel haters made their way to Trafalgar Square to hear obscene lies against my country by people including Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
I was standing with a group of twenty people organized by Jonathan Hoffmann; an affirmative Zionist who has recently been pilloried by BOD representatives.
Where was the BOD that day? Missing! Where was the British Zionist Federation that day? Missing!
As for Yachad? Figuratively speaking, they were up the road in Parliament Square saying kaddish for dead Hamas terrorists.
Get my point?
Back in 2010, the Jewish Chronicle described Mick Davis as an outspoken critic of Israel. At that time, Lucille Cohen, the president of the Manchester Jewish Representative Council, doubted that Davis’s opinions reflected those of the majority of British Jews but warned that his views would lead to “a growing misguided influence of post-Zionism in our youth which is detrimental to their understanding of Israel.”
Lucille Cohen now lives in Israel. How right she was.
Myer Green, co-founder of Scottish Friends of Israel and now a resident of Netanya, warned back then that he was taken aback by the attitude of Mick Davis which, he said, “legitimized the language and perception of Israel's enemies by suggesting that Israel's might be heading along the path to apartheid."
Here we are today with several BOD representatives, including many who have usurped key roles in the Zionist Federation, doing precisely what Mr. Green predicted.
Hilton Lorie, then president of Leeds Jewish Representative Council, called Davis’s JLC “a self-appointed body that doesn’t represent anyone,” and “without the wisdom of knowing when to stay shtum.”
Mr. Lorie’s twelve-year-old words apply more forcefully today to the Board of Deputies of British Jews who should have kept their mouths shut instead of telling a democratically elected Israeli lawmaker to get the hell out of Britain.
That is the language of our enemies.
Their left-wing attitudes and condescending comments have split British Jewry, offended many Israelis, and give ammunition to our enemies.
Perhaps this is the intent of today’s UK Jewish leaders who have been hyper-critical of Israel for decades.
Even if they promote the fifty year failure of a two-state delusion, surely they have the intelligence to understand the burden rests with the Palestinian Arab leadership, whoever they are, to prove themselves willing and capable of delivering a true people to Israel, and an essential part of that is recognizing the obvious presence of the Jewish State of Israel instead of behaving as if we are a temporary stain on the Middle East map that must be removed.
Tragically, a regressive anti-Israel attitude has inserted itself into the British Zionist Federation, an organization that has gone from being the affirmative Zionist beacon to supporting boycotts against Israel, a recent example was one representative group claiming that “Ben & Jerry’s did the right thing” in a primer justifying the anti-Israel ice cream boycott.
One after another, affirmative Zionists are being removed from office or outvoted in the BOD, the ZF, and more recently, putting pressure on the Jewish National Fund to dismiss ardent Zionists, Samuel Hayek, and Gary Mond on spurious charges.
I observe this to be a power play by those who want to impose their positions onto Israel using fair means or foul to get their way.
Character assassination has been employed to besmirch affirmative Zionists. One deputy even accused Israeli Ambassador, Tzipi Hotovely, of being a racist.
A hundred supporters signed an open letter in defense of Samuel Hayek and Gary Mond accusing the BOD Executive of cancel culture. It sure seems that way. Affirmative Zionism is one of the victims.
I still believe that most British Jews are affirmative, even if not affirmatively active, Zionists. However, they are now under-represented in the BOD.
Those that have taken over the BOD have hijacked the ZF. I predict they will go after the JNF next. They have already opened their campaign. Why else are they targeting and delegitimizing Samuel Hayek and Gary Mond?
In preparation for this article, I asked a couple of Zionist activists why the many individual local Friends of Israel groups, who did sterling work in facing down anti-Israel boycott activists on the streets of major cities, failed to apply to join the Board of Deputies and use that chamber to collectively advance affirmative Zionism on behalf of British Jews rather than leave the door open to Kaddish chanting groups like Yachad. They should have done it years ago to create a healthy positive environment to continue the once proud history of positive Zionism in Britain.
Now I am told “It’s too late. The anti-Zionists have the power. There are no longer the votes to get our kind accepted. The Israel critics have taken over the institutions..”
Chaim Weizmann must be turning over in his grave.
Barry Shaw is International Public Diplomacy Director at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He is also the author of ‘Fighting Hamas, BDS and Anti-Semitism,' '1917. From Palestine to the Land of Israel, 'BDS for IDIOTS,' and his latest work 'A Tale of Love and Destiny,' the dramatic life of a Jewish heroine.